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The first area I want to touch on is hanging. There is much more to it than one would think, and it is a very important part of the overall exercise. In fact, bar hangs are considered an exercise in their own right, and anyone using a bar should add it to their repertoire no matter the skill level. It’s important to have a firm, strong grip on the bar whether in overhand, underhand, or neutral grip. Furthermore, the scapula should be retracted, and the chest up. You don’t want the shoulders to sag. This additional contraction will allow you to get the most of each rep, and help recruit the necessary muscle groups to their full potential. I’ll usually do two to three sets of bar hangs before I get into leg raise, or pull-up work. It is a solid warm-up for the shoulders, and grip. As your strength and skill develop, you can also use earlier progressions in the chain to warm up. Understanding proper technique while hanging is something that I wish I knew right from the start. Getting in the ready position, with the scapula retracted is a habit I picked up later in training, and I only realized it because it was one of the reasons I was developing asymmetrically, and I quickly wanted to understand why. I found that my right side was stronger because it was picking up a bit more of the slack as I progressed through the chain. Once I consistently applied the ready position to my training, it helped me to contract both sides evenly, and further appreciate how the muscle groups work together as a chain.
Among all of the exercises in the leg raise chain, you may notice that momentum is being generated as you go through the concentric, and eccentric phases of the movement. This is normally because proper technique cannot be maintained in a slow, and controlled way due to a lack of knowledge, strength, or both. One thing that I have stressed throughout my podcasts is not to sacrifice technique for reps. You want to use little to no momentum whatsoever when performing each variation. This was most challenging for me when I began training hanging knee raises. I found that I would begin swinging slightly, then use effort to stop, all the while prolonging the length I was hanging and bringing about fatigue quicker. One tip that really helped me is extending the legs at a slight angle in front at the bottom of the movement, which will help counteract swinging. As you develop strength, and proprioception, you will learn to maintain control throughout the movement, and avoid generating momentum. Al Kavadlo released an article on the PCC Blog that I encourage you check out, that discussed the hidden difficulty inherent in the hanging leg raise. In the PCC certification, the final test is called the Century Test, which involves doing 40 bodyweight squats, 30 pushups, 20 hanging knee raises, and 10 pull-ups in under 8 minutes. He talks about how often times the hanging leg raise ends up being a lot more difficult than people anticipate, likely due to a lack of preparation. This in turn means many candidates end up getting “no-reps”, which means your rep doesn’t count due to poor technique. One of the main factors to watch out for he says, is excessive swinging. This is why I like to put so much emphasis on technique, and maintaining control throughout the entire movement. Developing solid habits at the hanging knee raise will pay huge dividends down the line because as your training develops, you will learn to minimize the use of momentum throughout. You can find the article, and many more, on the PCC blog at pccblog.dragondoor.com.
One thing I want to bring up again that I talked about in episode #23 on midsection holds, is flexibility. This also applies to hanging leg raise variations, and having the necessary mobility to complement the movements is key in being able to execute them to their fullest potential. Because of this, I encourage you to supplement your training with some stretches to ensure you are staying limber. Some key areas are the hamstrings and hip flexors. I discuss this in a bit more detail in episode #23, so be sure to check it out. One area that will give you an indication of mobility limitations is in attempting the pike lift. One of the ways to make a pike lift, for example, more difficult is to reduce the amount you are leaning back during the movement, but this might prove difficult if flexibility is an issue. This usually results in the legs touching the bar at the knees, or the upper shins. I mentioned earlier that within each variation there are different ways to regress, or progress, and requiring increased mobility is often a key factor. This is important because one of the things I learned throughout my training is that greater strength isn’t the only requirement, and if I wanted to keep progressing, flexibility training is a must.